This is that thread. Let the nightmares commence!
I have a fairly good grasp of the order set, although there are gaps in that understanding or I of course may be incorrect. Perhaps you can fill those gaps in for us, Cliffski.
So we’re we’re all on the same page, I’m going to try to draw out the orders below.
There are two distinct unit behaviors currently in operation: Driving (pathfinding) and Gunnery (shooting). An order can effect one or both.
Gunners, by default, appear to have some sort of targeting table that they evaluate periodically. Targets that fire is ineffective against (extremely fast moving, penetration immune) go down in priority; many of the orders of the set influence this priority in some way. The gunners seem to have some understanding of tracking mechanics and will tend to prioritize large and/or slow targets if given the choice. For missiles, painted targets take priority over unpainted ones, but only if the ship has orders to attack the painted ship class. Ships without weapons (or modules not considered weapons) receive a lower priority than ones with.
Drivers operate off a fairly rigid set. At the start of the map, they either select a target, or hold “formation” as ordered. They hold this target until:
(if in formation) The formation lead dies
The existing target dies
Retreat to the map edge by a ‘cautious’ order
Attack X orders have two sliders. A percentage, and a distance.
The percentage has direct influence on gunner target selection across hull classes, and define the willingness of gunners to attack suboptimal targets. 50%-50% attack cruisers-frigates will have gunners prioritizing cruisers, simply because cruisers are generally larger and slower than frigates. 50%-70% will have the gunners attacking frigates more often, although they may switch to a particularly juicy 256m stationary target cruiser.
The distance slider only influences the driver. The distance is the range at which the driver will stop approaching the target. At exactly half this distance, the driver will attempt to move away from the target. As a result, drivers maintain a ring-shaped band around their target. The percentage has an unknown influence on the target selection, possibly in relation to distance.
Gunners without Attack X orders (like a cruiser with no “attack fighters”) will fire on those targets only while idle. The driver will not select these units until all other hull classes are destroyed.
Co-operative orders appear to influence gunners only. Gunners will increase priority on targets being shot at by other gunners in a sort of “peer pressure” effect. This is used to focus fire, although it can mean more fire than normal expended at undesirable targets (too fast, armored, shielded, unarmed). Note that a gunner with cooperative orders can cooperate with guns without that order.
Vulture works like cooperative in that it adds target priority to vessels. In this case, low health percentages add priority. Note that shields/armor are not considered, only health. Beam weapons may be attracted to fire at a low health vessel that still has a reflective shield up, for example.
Cautious is a driver only order. At a certain health percentage (again, not shields/armor) drivers drop target and head to their starting edge of the map. Fighters will return to the closest valid carrier, if possible. The driver will remain here unless the craft health goes back over the percentage value, at which point it selects a new enemy target.
Rescuer orders work like cooperative and vulture, adding priority value this time to firing ships, often rapidly switching priority between them. This is useful for engaging (or spraying) a number of units at once; EMP, antishield and antifighter vessels make particularly good use of this, as they often don’t want overlapping or wasteful fire.
Protector works like rescuer, but only for weapons fired on a particular ship. I don’t use it, considering the scale of large battles - does it even have a hotkey?
Escort is an additional constraint on the driver. If too far from the escort target (as defined by the distance) the driver attempts to move towards the escort target. Note that the driver will not attempt to do so if within Attack X range of it’s attack target - it will instead remain stationary. It’s possible to leave long range escorts “behind” if they decide to stop and engage targets. Fighters do not stop their movement patterns when using this order.
Formation defines a coordinate in space in relation to a defined vessel for the driver to move to. The orientation of the target vessel has no bearing on this coordinate, only the X and Y position. Due to acceleration factors, drivers tend to ‘lag behind’ the defined coordinate.
Retaliate works like rescuer, but for ships firing on that vessel.
Keep Moving is a unique driver-only order that initiates a drunken movement pattern when the driver is idle - this occurs within the range band around an attack target. It is incompatible with escort and formation.
Stick together is a driver-only order for fighters that makes them hold a formation. The fighters follow a lead target rather than individually determining paths; this target should always be a healthy fighter on the attack. Fighters that peel away via cautious commands do not seem to return to the formation.
No attack: Units without any attack orders exhibit some strange behaviors. Drivers will repeatedly switch targets on the fly based on proximity, gunners and drivers operate off a set of internal range/percentage values that aren’t fully known to us.